April 20, 2011

From Russia to Walkertown

From Russia to Walkertown
Natalia Tuchina discusses her newfound home

(by Ryan Gay, Kernersville News,
April 19, 2011)

“My favorite question to be asked is, ‘How did you get here?’ I love that question! I always respond, ‘A plane brought me!’” exclaimed Walkertown Library Supervisor Natalia Tuchina.

Tuchina, who is originally from Russia, said she has traveled a long way from her native home.

“Flying here from Russia was not my first flight,” she laughed. “My first flight was from St. Petersburg to Siberia, which takes about the same amount of time as flying here!”

Born in St. Petersburg, Tuchina recalls her birthplace as the cultural capital of Russia. “It’s the rival to Moscow,” she explained. “Moscow is much more a center for finance and politics.”

While Tuchina has visited Siberia, she cautioned with a laugh that she had not been exiled. “I was traveling and writing stories about people. It was very good for me,” she explained.

Tuchina attended university in St. Petersburg where she majored in journalism. “When I started out we didn’t even have tape recorders. We just took notes, which  real, raw journalism! It was just talking to the people and listening to their voices and their hearts,” she said.

After graduating from university, Tuchina found herself tired of life ‘in civilization.’ “You get over the matters of the big city at a certain point,” she explained. “I wanted something new and different. So, I went to live on the small island of Valaam, which rests in the largest lake in Europe.”

Tuchina noted that the island, closer to Finnish borders than to St. Petersburg, was only accessible by boat. “The island is lovingly referred to as the Northern Venice because there are so many channels and rivers,” she said.

Tuchina worked on the island for six years as the head librarian in a museum. “The history of that place was fascinating,” she said. “The island’s history stretches back to the beginning of Christianity in Russia.”

Tuchina noted that the island was considered a biospheric reserve. “The land was very pure and the nature was beautiful. A long time ago, the lake was part

of a sea so it has lots of seawater life. There were only about 400 people on an island that was no larger than 8x10 kilometers,” she said.

Tuchina said life in Russia was much like life anywhere else. “You can go to museums and theaters and concerts,” she smiled. “Environmentally it is a

different story. The cities have lots of pollution, fumes and an overwhelming number of cars. There was so much pollution that I found it hard to breathe.”

Tuchina noted that despite reports to the contrary, information has begun to flow much more freely in Russia than traditionally believed. “Google isn’t forbidden anymore!” she laughed. “But, in the Ukraine, YouTube is still forbidden. Countries in that part of the world have peculiar ways of limiting access of the public to information. For instance, only about two percent of Russians not living in a metropolis have Internet connection.”

Tuchina said it wasn’t until 1980 that her family purchased their first color television. “We bought it for the Olympics,” she smiled. In fact, Tuchina has a special connection to the 1980 Olympics. “My father was a helicopter engineer. Russians trust their military engineers to do important political things, which was what they considered the Olympics,” Tuchina explained. “My father was trusted with building the big cauldron they light with the torch once it finally reaches the Olympics. He sweat bullets that night hoping it went off without a hitch. If it hadn’t, we might have ended up in Siberia!”

Tuchina decided to come to the U.S. due to the constantly changing political climate of Russia. “The government actually gave Valaam to the church, since it used to be a big monastery,” she said. “So, I was faced with a choice: convert completely to that religion or find another place to live.”

When Tuchina landed in New York City, her first culture shock was at McDonald’s. “I was so excited to go to McDonald’s!” she laughed. “The first thing I asked was for tea. For Russians, tea means hot tea. They got me tea, but it had ice in it! I said I wanted it hot. They made it hot for me after they heated it up in the microwave!”

Another culture shock came when she resided in New York City with a Russian bishop. “The bishop was of the Russian Orthodox Church and had left Russia in 1917 when the Bolsheviks came to power,” she said. “This man spoke a pure Russian language I never knew! The Old Russian language was destroyed after the Revolution. It was exciting because I actually learned to speak Russian when I came to New York City.”

Tuchina finally arrived in the South after she grew tired of life in the North. “I wanted to experience a different version of America,” she smiled. “I love the weather here and I love being close to the ocean and the mountains.”

So far, Tuchina has used her experiences to educate the community about Russian culture. “I have loved being able to put together programming that educates others on the Russian culture,” she said. “I am open to ideas for what the community would like to see. I want to make the Walkertown library a community center. I see this as a place for people to get together for educational and recreational programs, concerts, authors and get people involved in the community through gardening programs or other ways to give back.”

Tuchina said she is most excited about an upcoming event called the Alpaca Adventure. “Kids of all ages will have the chance to meet and walk with alpacas,” she laughed. “I’ve never seen one of those before.” The Alpaca Adventure is scheduled for May 14 at the library from 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.

As the supervisor for the Walkertown Library, Tuchina said she has felt very welcomed by the community. “Customer ask me where I’m from and then warmly welcome me,” she said. “I’ve gotten so much support from this community as I’ve become acclimated to the cultures.

People keep asking me if I’m going to stay here in America. I just say, ‘Well, if you don’t mind, I’d love to!’ And I truly mean that.”

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